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Funky Gourmet – Athens, Greece

I am SO glad this restaurant was recommended to me.  I feel like it’s one of the best kept secrets in Athens although it’s not-so-secret seeing that it just received it’s first Michelin Star.  Funky Gourmet is owned and run by Nick Roussos, Georgianna Hiliadaki and Argyro Hiliadaki, the first two mentioned being the head chefs.  Both were in the house the night we ate there.

The whole meal was absolutely incredible!  So fun and playful…it was enjoyable from start to finish.  Favorites for me included the “picnic”, pesto pasta that we got to make and cook ourselves (not really but I love that they let you think you’re doing it:)), and Greek Salad sorbet – that was nuts!  I was hesitant to try the foie gras truffle (simply because I don’t care for the taste of fg) but I was pleasantly surprised.  It truly tasted like a chocolate truffle!

At the end of the meal I have to say, I was shockingly NOT stuffed but 100% satisfied.  If you’re in Athens be sure to check this place out.  It’s a special experience that you’ll never forget.  Hats off to the chefs!

Braised Lamb Shanks (Kokkinisto me Manestra)

Recipe courtesy of Kokkari

Lamb is a staple in any Greek household and this recipe will make you fall in love if you aren’t already.  You can make this a day ahead which helps the spices mellow and flavors improve.  It’s a very hearty dish perfect for a night when you’re craving comfort food and something to warm your tummy.

Serves 6

Ingredients

Spice Mix

  • 1 tablespoon each ground allspice, ground toasted cumin, ground nutmeg, Spanish smoked sweet paprika and garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 6 lambs shanks, 1 1/2 pounds each
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 onions, coarsely chopped
  • 1 whole garlic bulb, cut across stem end to expose cloves
  • 1 1/2 cups dry red wine
  • 1/2 cup Italian tomato paste
  • 8 bay leaves
  • 6-inch sprig fresh rosemary
  • 8 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 1/2 cups orzo pasta
  • Chunk of myzithra or ricotta salata cheese for serving

In a small bowl, combine the spice mix ingredients.  Rub the shanks all over with the spice mix, coating them evenly.  (You can cover and refrigerate them for up to 24 hours.)  Preheat the oven to 350ªF.  Season the shanks well with salt and pepper.  In a large pot, heat the olive oil over high heat.  Working in batches, sear the shanks on all sides until well browned, about 5 minutes per shank.  Transfer to a platter.

Reduce the heat to medium, add the onions and garlic, and sauté until the onions are translucent, about 3 minutes.  Add the wine and stir to scrape up any browned bits.  Raise the heat to high and cook for 1 to 2 minutes.  Stir in the tomato paste and herbs.

Return the shanks to the pot, meaty end down.  They will fit snuggly.  Add water to come halfway up the sides of the shanks.  Bring to a simmer and stir in 2 teaspoons salt and several grinds of pepper.  Cover tightly and bake until the meat is fork-tender and pulls away from the bone, about 2 1/2 hours.  Let cool in the pot, then refrigerate overnight if desired.

Skim all surface fat.  If refrigerated, reheat the shanks over medium heat.  Discard the bay leaves and herb sprigs.  Remove the garlic, and when it is cool enough to handle, squeeze the cloves back into the post.  Set aside and keep the shanks warm.

In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the orzo until al dente, according to package directions.  Drain and return to the same pot.  Add about 1 1/2 cups of broth from the lamb shanks and stir well.  Divide the orzo among 6 shallow bowls.  Top each portion with a lamb shank, then spoon some of the juices over the lamb.  On the large holes of a box grater, grate myzithra to taste over the lamb and orzo.

Serve immediately.

The Press Club – Melbourne, Australia

Something I didn’t know about Melbourne until I went there is that it has the third largest population of Greeks.  Works for me!  Chef George Calombaris opened The Press Club in 2006 and has since opened two other restaurants, one in Melbourne (Hellenic Republic) and the other at the uber-excluxive hotel The Belvedere Hotel on the island of Mykonos, Greece (The Belvedere Club).  *My husband and I are planning a trip to Greece this fall so hopefully we’ll be able to make a stop on Mykonos:)

I didn’t know what to expect with The Press Club but all I can say is that it was a fantastic night start to finish!  Chef Calombaris was in the house which I now know was a treat since he spends 7 months out of the year filming MasterChef Australia in Sydney…quite the commute!  We chose to do the Symposium degustation menu along with the paired wines.  In addition to the 8 courses, Chef Calombaris treated us to an extra 2 ensuring that we would leave STUFFED!  But in a good way:)  Everything was PERFECT!  The flavors were so clean and well presented.  Each bite was an explosion of flavor.  It was hard for me not to clean every plate but I knew there was a lot coming so I had to pace myself.  If I went back and could only order one thing off of the a la carte menu it would have to be the salmon but seriously, you can’t go wrong and you won’t be disappointed.  Sit at the chef’s table if you can…it makes for such an entertaining meal.  Thanks George!!!!

Amuse Bouche – Kasos “Tonos – Tuna”

Helleniko “Domata – Tomato”

Nemea “Kouneli – Rabbit”

Larissa “Kotopoulo – Chicken”

*Special extra dish from the chef – beef short rib

Kolonaki “Psari – Salmon”

Naoussa “Moschari – Beef”

Corfu “Refreshing”

Rethimno “Fraoules – Strawberry”

*Another extra dish from the chef – chocolate!

Nikos Gyros – Seattle, WA

Not too long ago my dad asked me to join him for lunch and suggested Nikos in Magnolia.  I had never been but am always willing to try a new (new to me) Greek spot.  It’s easy to spot with the blue and white exterior and the Greek flag proudly hanging outside.  You have to love that it’s still family run and is genuinely a cute little neighborhood spot.  Nothing crazy and lavish…great authentic food at affordable prices.  *I ate light this day (soup and salad) however my dad enjoyed a Greek stable…the gyro!  And boy did it look good.  I would recommend that if you go…that or the Chicken Souvlaki which I hear is a fan favorite.

Avgolemono – a very traditional Greek soup consisting of egg, lemon, chicken, chicken broth and rice. I LOVE it!  It’s what I grew up eating…kind of like the Greek version of chicken noodle soup (but better:)).  The lemon brightens it up and adds that much more flavor.  Try it!

Milos – New York, NY

I found out about Milos on Gwyneth Paltrow’s newsletter GOOP which featured New York.  I knew from her write up that it was going to be a pricey meal (she didn’t disappoint there) however, being Greek and having high expectations, it ended up being one of the best meals I’ve ever had!

The space is fairly large with white walls, tall ceilings and every seat was filled.  We had an 8pm reservation and were there until 10pm something.  New York is a non-stop city that’s for sure.

If your wallet can stand the price tag, put this place at the top of your list.  I am already looking forward to going back to NYC and having a delicious dinner at this fabulous spot.

I loved this detail…heads of garlic were used to hold down the cheesecloth used as a wall separator.  Brilliant!Just like in Turkey this past summer, we got to go pick out our fish for dinner.  Fish is flown in twice daily to the restaurant so you know you’re getting it fresh!Octopus – sashimi grade Mediterranean octopus char-grilled
Grilled Calamari – stuffed with Cretan Anthotiro, feta, manouri cheese, and fresh mint.  Served with fava, saffron.Grilled sea bream – served with olive oil and lemon sauceOur little fried fish:)  I can’t remember the name of it but it was recommended that we get it fried and holy cow was it good.  It was so buttery and tender.  I could have eaten a few of this little guys.And to end the night…what else would we order at a Greek restaurant besides Loukoumades?!

Saint Demetrios Greek Festival – Seattle, WA

This is something I look forward to every year.  As a young girl my family and I used to attend church at Saint Demetrios and every year when the Greek Festival would roll around I would beg my parents to let me work the pop machine…coolest job EVER!  I have fond fond memories of the festival and love that it’s still around and going strong.

My husband and I moved back to Seattle 3 1/2 years ago and conveniently settled into the Montlake area where our house is in walking distance to the church.  Don’t misunderstand me here…I’m not going to church on Sundays, I’m going to the Greek Festival everyday I possibly can when it happens the one weekend out of the year.  Oh how I love the gyros, spanakopita and loukoumades.  Being a good Greek girl, I’ve learned most of the traditional recipes that I grew up on and make them quite often at home so I definitely get my fix but experiencing it straight from the source is a totally difference experience all together.

If you missed it this year there’s always next.  Just remember that it’s always in September on the weekend when the Huskies have an away game.  Opa!

The star of the day…the Gyro!

Kalamari (Greeks use a lot of K’s) – something I’ve never had at the festival but it was really good and topped with a little tzatziki which was a great addition and very tasty!

Meatballs over rice…can you really go wrong here?

Pastitsio – this is one of my favorite Greek dishes

Dolmathes – not ‘Dolmas’ people!

Spanakopita and Tiropeta (mine’s better I swear!)

Loukoumades…AAAAMAZING!  Little fried nuggets of goodness in a honey glaze and topped with cinnamon…need I say anymore?

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